Country Roads Native Americana: Hospitality, Coushatta Style Tuesday, Mar 31 2009 

Turn north off Highway 190 in Elton, Louisiana, and wind four or five miles along a narrow Parish road through fields and forests, cross a muddy bbuffaloayou that you suspect is the boundary line between the edge of nowhere and the middle of nowhere, and just at the point you’d least expect civilization to spring from the forest, voila!  You’re at the crossroads on the sovereign grounds of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Reservation.  Tribal administrative, governmental, and recreational facilities line the two country roads that intersect there at the Chevron/convenience store right at the center of it all.

The Reservation is a novel and fascinating retreat from the familiar surroundings no more than 20 miles from my home.   Part of the fascination results from the manner the Reservation springs up out of the verdant Southwest Louisiana wilderness along that lonely blacktop road, but more of the fascination derives from the rich culture that the Coushatta nation is striving to preserve on these grounds.   On today’s trip, as a novelty, I enjoyed this exotic rencontre with Mr. and Mrs. Buffalo, grazing placidly on the spring pasture grass right along the main road.   That’s not a sight one sees in South Louisiana, je t’assure!

The program I attended had a workforce development emphasis, but that’s really not what struck me.  Earnest presentations revealing the tribal leaders’ determination to  preserve their culture and their language, to keep from being swallowed up and assimilated by the Anglo-Cajun culture surrounding them, were passionate and compelling.  The highlight of the day was the pronouncement of the blessing on the luncheon pronounced in the Koasati tongue by one of the senior ladies of the Tribe.  I didn’t understand a word she said, but I did understand her sincerity, and no doubt God DID understand what she said.  I believe that meal, along with all proceedings, was properly blessed.  I certainly was, just for being there.

The joys of grandparenting: amusing Sunday moments with Payton Sunday, Mar 29 2009 

I like to get to church early Sunday because Payton gets there early with her parents while her dad goes over the band routine.  Payton and Payton’s Mom and I play around while the musicians practice.   Payton was revved up this morning, scooting along the carpet and dropping shoes along the way, impressed with her  independent mobility and the fact that she could do just fine without those shoes.  I found all this cute enough to take the video with my Smartphone, which I share her to freshen up the blog until some new writing topic comes along.

World’s most dangerous professions: developmental math teacher Wednesday, Mar 25 2009 

I always enjoy visiting classrooms and observing teachers in my own discipline of English and letters. I am not nearly as comfortable when I visit the math classes, like this one this evening, because math still challenges me.

math-classBut if learning math ever challenged me, who no matter how managed to get through college level algebra and trigonometry, I REALLY admire the courage and patience of this teacher in the lowest level of developmental math at the two-year college.

The learners are the former kids who somehow got left behind before “no child left behind” (whether one sets much store by NCLB or not). This class is almost entirely female, age range from mid-twenties through thirties with a few forties in the mix, most of them with children/family/job responsibilities which cause them to take the after-hours class.

This evening’s topics: adding and subtracting fractions, figuring percentages, and other fundamentals. Plain old middle school mathematics. These students all have college algebra as their goal, but they’re having to walk up through levels beginning with these basics and continuing next semester into pre-algebra. The sad statistic is that no more than fifty per cent or so of these students will make it to college algebra–probably fewer than fifty per cent, in fact.

The teacher, bless her heart, is just a slam-dunk excellent math teacher. She teaches top-level math classes at a local high school during the day to many above-average high school kids, so she must really find this adult ed. night class to be a step down. But she has amazing patience with the more motivated adults, as she works problems, explains, and answers questions with ringing clarity. I don’t know how she keeps the faith, because for all of the rewards–i.e., successful students–she has just as many if not more unsuccessful. As a teacher, I know how students’ failure, even when they bring it on themselves, can be a drag on professional self-esteem.

So hats off to the profession of developmental math: Let’s put these brave stalwarts in the category with fire and emergency personnel. Their hazards are not normally life-threatening, but for the stress and anxiety they must endure against all odds for success, we honor them!

Puppy Games: Out of Marley’s and Sadie’s Toy Chest Tuesday, Mar 24 2009 

The dogs fished this long odd-length stick from the firewood pile several weeks ago and have been dragging it back and forth around the yard ever since.   This short clip shows their playful tug o’ war, enacted just about thus-and-so several times a day.  Typically, Sadie with the advantage of roughly twice Marley the Scruffy Boy’s avoidupois, has her way in the contest, but notice how undaunted Marley holds forth, no matter that the proceedings go against him.  He’s the perfect example of “It’s not whether you win or lose, just as long as you play the game.”   Sadie the Grouch is the source of the gruff sound effects.  Good-Time Marley is having too much fun to growl or snarl.

More of the humble rewards: country teachin’, country learnin’, Cajun-style Friday, Mar 20 2009 

In the last week, I got to visit two English IV classes in two remote rural high schools in South Louisiana.  My purpose was to observe the performance of the two teachers in dual credit sections of English IV where the students are earning college credit in the advanced high school courses, but once each class got underway, an uncontrollable impulse took over: I forgot my administrative identity.  The teachers, the charm of engliv-chpsthe  young peoples’ cute little Cajun accents, and the subject matter were too irresistible.

In the school last week, the lesson was Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”  After the teacher put the kids in groups to begin a pre-writing collaborative activity for writing their own “Modest Proposal” in imitation of the master Swift, the students started raising hands for help faster than my colleague could get to them, so I rose from my observatory in the back of the class to aid the cause.  I helped one young lady think through the possibilities on her cluster map.  I don’t know how much good I did her in the long run, but her smile was so sincere and appreciative, perhaps surprised but pleased that the stranger in the classroom had come to her assistance.

In another rural school yesterday, the lesson topic was an introductory lecture and discussion of Lord Byron.  I admired the teacher’s gift for engaging the students in  lively interactive discussion, relating Lord Byron’s eccentricities to contemporary examples so well that she humanized the canonized.  This class was really gregarious, that tone appropriately set by the teacher.   Like the week before, I couldn’t resist becoming a participant.  When the students asked her to explain debauchery, I chimed in, “Oh, here’s a synonym–debauchery is kind of like licentiousness.”   And it worked–not that they knew any more what licentious meant than they understood debauchery, but I got a laugh,  the teacher went on to explain, and the kids got two vocabulary words for the price of one.

I know every country school  classroom doesn’t look like these.  I was rubbing shoulders with select kids in select classes with select teachers.  And I realize, too, that kids have a knack for responding with propriety when some officious stranger dude in a coat and tie walks in and sits in the back of the classroom.   But I still think these kids and their teachers were mostly showing me who they are, what they do, and how they do it.   It sure was fun, and it reminded me, the product of rural and small-town schools most of my life, that for all the drawbacks of being rural, we do have some natural advantages.  I regret that these advantages are shrinking away with vanishing rural Americana.   That phenomenon makes this  a blog-worthy topic: Lest we forget from whence we came.

Payton enjoys breakfast at Honey’s Wednesday, Mar 18 2009 

Payton came to spend the day Tuesday.  She got here before Papa had to go to work, so Papa got to watch her enjoy Honey’s delicious cinnamon toast with bananas.  Note also our little girl is starting to say some words, like “dog” as the  nomenclature for the ever-vigilant-for-scraps Marley the Dog.

The Pedagogue’s Lament, once more . . . Tuesday, Mar 17 2009 

More and more as I associate with teachers from coast to coast, the burning issues are the same everywhere.  I wrote the following piece in 1994, but the truth is as relevant today apparently as it was then!

“The Pedagogue’s Lament”
By David L. Pulling
December 1994

Oh, Socrates!  Can you teach the torch to burn bright?
I gasp for sustenance in pestilent air.

Hour to hour the prison bell sounds as regular as Granny-on-ex-lax.
Disaffection files out,
Disaffection files in–
the ebb and flow of meaninglessness.

Before me stretch imposing rows of glossy acrylic crisply arrayed in linear rank,
molded in the accommodating shape of human posteriors
(one size fits all);
I am stripped of sovereignty, yoked with stratified, codified, deified curricular guide
passed down from high bureaucratic places, putting objects to learn in proper places
(one behavioral objective fits all).

Save me, ere I perish,

Banking in Kalamazoo : The Third Fifth Bank? Saturday, Mar 14 2009 

fifth-third-bankHere’s a bank in downtown Kalamazoo.  What happened to the first through fourth third banks? How many first and second banks were there before the five third banks?   Do banks fail so regularly in Kalamazoo?  I’d be reluctant to deposit my money in such a bank.

That would seem, in a parallel comparison, to joining a church named Fourth Third Baptist Church.  I just wouldn’t do it.  The name sounds like a bad omen!

Things to see and do in downtown Kalamazoo Thursday, Mar 12 2009 

Life in downtown Kalamazoo is hardly cosmopolitan sleek and sophisticated.  It’s small city USA, really.   Here are a couple of random observations I noted this  afternoon after I explored the immediate vicinity of the hotel.

Like to shop? The pedestrian mall claims to be the original shopping mall in Americana. The mall features pricey boutiques and chic bistros. No need to expect Wal Mart prices!  Even Starbucks isn’t cool enough for this strip.  The historical marker on the walk notes one of the city’s  more notable celebrities from the pharmaceutical industry.


Like to go to church? The church square, or whatever they call it, is pure Americana.   An entire square block forms a quadrangle arrayed with  staid specimens of classic edifices representing almost all of the major American Protestant denominations .   Plenty of variety concentrated conveniently for the parishioner who changes his mind from week to week about his preference… or his doctrinal convictions  (i. e.  dogma).  The Catholic church has impressive properties, too,  but in a different neighborhood.


The flatness of the prairie: a topic revisited Tuesday, Mar 10 2009 

midland-prairieI’ve blogged this topic before . . . can’t remember exactly when . . . but likely it was during the spring of last year or the year before.  For some reason, the flatness of the southwestern Louisiana coastal prairies seems flatter this time of year.  Perhaps that impression owes to the bareness of the fields–no crops growing yet above the ground, or the fields, like the one beyond the grass in this picture, are flooded for crawfish production.  The result: as far as the eye can behold, flat.  This scene comes from southern Acadia Parish near the Midland community.

I suppose flat could be construed as boring, but the open prairie fascinates me, whether it’s Kansas wheat fields or Louisiana rice fields.  I suppose it’s the panoramic view.  Just how much creatiion can the eye behold when the landscape spreads away to the seeming ends of the earth?  That’s pretty cool.  I much prefer such expansive scenery to rolling hills with towering woods lining either side of the roadway so that I can’t see anything beyond the first row of trees.  In comparison, that’s boring–like any Interstate highway in the Deep South United States.  Ugh.  I’ll take the boundless prairie, God’s vast creation from here to way over yonder, as far as I can see.

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